Researchers have said that procrastination is a result of deadlines that are longer and the best way to avoid procrastination is to have shorter deadlines.
The study is published in Economic Inquiry by researchers from University of Otago. Researchers tested the effect of deadline length on task completion for their research wherein participants were invited to complete an online survey in which a donation goes to charity. They were given either one week, one month, or no deadline to respond.
While the study started because the team was interested in helping charities raise more money, the findings are applicable to any situation where someone asks another person for help. This could be asking a colleague for help at work or asking your partner to do something for you.
The study found responses to the survey were lowest for the one-month deadline, and highest when no deadline was specified. No deadline and the one-week deadline led to many early responses, while a long deadline appeared to give people permission to procrastinate, and then forget.
Researchers weren’t surprised to find that specifying a shorter deadline increased the chances of receiving a response compared to a longer deadline. However, they did find it interesting that they received the most responses when no deadline was specified. Scientists interpret this as evidence that specifying a longer deadline, as opposed to a short deadline or no deadline at all, removes the urgency to act, which is often perceived by people when asked to help.
People therefore put off undertaking the task, and since they are inattentive or forget, postponing it results in lower response rates. It is possible that not specifying a deadline might still have led participants to assume that there is an implicit deadline. Scientists hope their research can help reduce the amount of procrastinating people do.